THE bloody cruel invaders look beyond the Fountain of Arethusa and its real water and thirsty people, no other tourists to be seen. No sounds of bombs or firing at the moment, a faint noise that might be artillery in the distance, but you cannot always hear well for noise of lorries being loaded and banging their way into and out of the Port area. There are few ships in the harbor, considering its presumed importance in the invasion. The men ashore tell the propaganda team that the enemy has withdrawn promptly to the North and is resisting pursuit on the roads to Catania and all along the Southern flanks of Mount Etna. The Yanks are somewhere off to the West.
The port is wrecked, the train sheds in shambles, the ancient city by no means destroyed, the population not much in evidence -- where are they? -- sfollati, fled to the countryside and to the great quarries, beginning now to trickle back into town.
Once outside the old city, in the quarries and caves, and scattered over the hills and in cottages, you can view people by the thousands. Without binoculars and unless you got in close to their poverty, you would imagine a panoramic picnic, a county fair, a collective harvest. In these same ancient quarries had labored the surrendered army that Athens had sent to conquer Syracuse, soldiers of the Queen City of Antiquity, a myriad degraded to the status of slaves following their defeat. The Italian and German prisoners of the moment are much better treated. Half the Italians, who, it develops, are Sicilian, are simply dismissed or drop out and go home.
The region has been somewhat deforested, the springs less abundant, the population grossly swollen in numbers, the fish less plentiful, over the millennia. Syracuse has been become a backwater town with superlative monuments, a Cathedral of the greatest architectural beauty, a castle of the most brilliant of medieval Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and Sicily, Frederick II. A number of fine old Baroque apartments and town houses crowd the little ancient island of Ortygia, which is the oldest part of Syracuse and embraces the old Port. They are all damaged to some degree. Robbie and he take up two small apartments of a rather newer building; the rest of the advance party have gone forward to work with the artillery and interrogate German prisoners; they are trying to get surrender demands over to the enemy, without much success; their problem is their English exclusiveness; they want a small party, Colonel Head of G-2 agrees, indeed suggests that they hold off bringing in more professional people on the printing side. There are several good chances to fire leaflets or get them through by patrol. A loud-speaker would be dangerous but useful.
The Syracuse party gets some messages conveying a measure of what was happening. There is no plan, no scheme, no knowledge of the technology available; still, like muskrats going instinctively into a new swamp, Heycock and Galsworthy get busy with the Operations Staff and Robbie and Alfred set up shop in Syracuse. They find a printing shop, undamaged, with some paper, and begin to print what they call the Corriere di Siracusa. Robbie is Editor, the American is Co-Publisher, member of the Editorial Committee, and Production Manager. As they are about to go to press with the First Issue, a Capt. Charlton shows up: he is the cheerful fast-moving one-man (cum batman) publisher of the Eighth Army News; he had begun it just before the Battle of El Alamein. He has a good claim on the paper stock and press, and might beat them out for it, backed by his vain boss, who commands all the hardware and territory wrested from the enemy.
But Charlton is clever enough to see advantages in collaborating with people who know the lay of the land. Furthermore, he recognizes the need to get the civilian population lined up; too, he latches on to an additional source of news. And besides, he is a decent chap. So they make a deal to publish the two newspapers
together and swap news. The Italian printers stand by during all of this negotiation; they are pleased to be part of something new. There has been no newspaper in Syracuse hitherto, and they are glad to know that an American is involved, for where there is an American there is money. That's the way Charlton feels, too; there is a hint that a part of the small subsidy provided him by HQ, 8A, will be able to go into subsidizing his whiskey ration as well. No one bothers paying for the paper or presses or anything aside from the food and money needed by the Italian printers, who are more than pleased to put out the newspaper.
This is another "first," as they say: it is the first Free Newspaper of Europe since Mussolini, Franco, Stalin and Hitler turned out all the lights. Handset, and hand-turned on the old press by a youth on extra rations, Numero Uno of the Corriere di Siracusa appears on 14 Luglio 1943 from Via Minerva no.3, in one tabloid-sized sheet, Italian on the one side and English of the Eighth Army News on the other.
On the Italian side there is a stern warning against hoarding and hiding food supplies from the hungry populace. It recognizes the existing Italian money and also proclaims the legal tender of the new Allied bank notes being used by the troops and for civilian purchases by the army. It carries brief notices from the Sicilian fronts and reports a Russian advance near Kursk. (The greatest battle of the War is taking place in Russia, a battle from which the Wehrmacht cannot fully recover.) The Eighth Army News headlines that the roads to Augusta are cleared. It bears a snappy portrait of General Montgomery in his beret, Mussolini-sized, and highlights his visiting the troops; it reports as well the battle news from the American sector.
On the 26th of July the headline is "Mussolini has Fallen!". Both the Italian and the English sides of the page print word for word the latest BBC slow-speaking broadcast of the night before.
Next the paper splits and the Italian and English newspapers go their separate ways. The Corriere carries a great speech by Churchill to the Italians assuring them ultimately a secure role in the new Europe, if now they surrender unconditionally. (Obviously this is hardly an unconditional surrender.) A long editorial tells readers that Sicily has been partially destroyed, but it will rise again thanks to the hard work and willpower of the Sicilian people and the good will and assistance to be rendered by the Allies. Then the foreign coverage goes around the world from Kiska and New Guinea to Orel, USSR.
The people begin to trickle back into town but are still afraid of bombings, now by the Germans and Italian aircraft. Planes do come over, not too seriously. He is printing the paper when bombs start to fall and ack-ack go off and a crowd rushes the print shop for shelter -- or for comfort. He pushes the door shut to keep the shop from getting mobbed and messed-up and the presses going, and he is scolded reproachfully for his heartlessness by the people banging against the doors. He shouts at them that there is no danger, but they know better: odds on safety are subjective.
Enemy planes come at night and many people crowd the shelters, including British sailors. The American is abed, trying to kill fleas, or at least to calculate their trajectory, saying an occasional Paternoster and Ave Maria, for their soporific effect, and listening uneasily to the bombs and artillery. Robbie is in his own apartment, no lights, but sailors come up, arousing him and he comes across the hall to the Lieutenant and says, "Would you go down with these boys, like a good fellow, Alfred? There is some damned trouble, I don't know what, in the air raid shelter!" No use to say, "Call the police." Italian police and carabinieri retain their functions but cannot be expected to discipline the troops of their conquerors; fact is, the Military Police have a hard enough job doing so. The civilians have lost respect for their own uniformed authorities as well.
He draws on his trousers, slips a 7.65 cal. automatic he had confiscated into his pocket, takes up his flashlight and goes down with the sailors into the darkness where there is a lot of screaming and cursing. One or two inebriated sailors are beating up on people, mostly women and children, or that's what it seems like in the near blackness, and the one who is most disorderly won't budge and seems crazed, striking out in all directions with wild strength at the several buddies who are tugging at him, so the American raps him on the back of the head with his automatic, and the sailor who called him says, "You'll hurt him, Sir!", "No, it'll just stun him a bit," and the lug does roll his eyes perplexedly at his assailant and quiets down enough to be dragged off. The same sailor meets them the next day and apologizes; he says his head doesn't hurt at all.
Next night, another gang of sailors comes charging into the flat building where he is staying, intent upon taking over the building. Again Robbie calls him to help, disappearing into the shadows, and he has to draw a gun on them -- which hardly impresses them, but they do sullenly depart.
He cannot but notice a shapely young woman in pumps and black dress, true, most are wearing black, which makes soldiers think they had heavy casualties but comes from very long mourning periods, and she has long black hair and is well-stacked, slender-legged, and pretty and her name is Nuccia; she gives him the eye, no more than that, but pauses also to give him the time of day; she is easy to talk to and friendly and even has an apartment of decent taste where they can cook up a passable pasta with a can of corned beef and some tomato sauce.
Thus he finds himself unthinking, unrepentant, and quite ready for sex in Syracuse, never mind the general state of affairs, or the ever- present longing for a love five thousand miles away. He passes a couple of hours with supple Nuccia. Her fine ivory skin is one thing. She fits to size immediately, without fumbling and jostling, not all elbows, knees and hipbones like some women. He is not so naive as to fail to bathe thoroughly, but, in his vanity, does not ask whether she needs compensation beyond food, drink, cigarettes and bedding down on his bedding roll unrolled. She asks for nothing, taking with her a pack of American cigarettes (worth three of Bengal Lancers, the British ration, which are so bad, says Robbie, grinning with his big teeth under his natty brush, "the Italian prisoners of war in India rioted against their distribution, invoking the Geneva Convention").
The two smile and say "Buon Giorno, Come' stai" in passing, and have another heavy date a couple of days later. Then, as he and his driver Hank are parking in the narrow street after a day's trip, he sees Nuccia in a cute flowery dress entering her doorway, a few steps away from his own, with a handsome British naval officer in tow; he is spruced up for a party, ruby-lipped and ruddy-cheeked, happy of expression and carrying a sizeable portion of his boat's larder, and the Lieutenant does then realize that Nuccia has a living to make and others who appreciate her more, and he had better get on with his mission in life -- as if other officers have none, but I suppose that he is much more of an ideologue than practically anybody in the war, let's say more than 99% of the combatants, wherever in the world they were.
Robbie and Alfred decide to charge money for the Corriere on the idea that he had picked up in America, that people only appreciate what they have to pay for. Robbie is delighted to discover that he is actually selling all that they can print, employing an improvised distributing group of urchins and Italian army deserters. Captain Charlton is envious because he cannot charge for his paper, but the difference is that he would embezzle his funds, whereas Robbie only gets a Scot's satisfaction out of the money, which he saves up, despite its becoming a burden, until finally he can dump it into the PWB treasury the first time a paymaster comes through. Meanwhile other officers convince him that a few occupation lira could be spent to add greens and fruit to the bully beef ration.
Robbie and Charlton are the chief source of news, except for local matters. Robbie listens to all the broadcasts in English and Italian that can be heard on their radio and to occasional German broadcasts in English, then summarizes them for composition at the printing plant. His best source is the BBC's slow-spoken, clearly enunciated shortwave broadcast that he takes down word for word. He longs for some word about his tunnery on Elba; he hopes to return there some day. No news. No prisoner from Tuscany has yet put in an appearance.
Charlton brings in the communiqués and gossip from Eighth Army HQ and lets the American use it as he composes it for his own newspaper. Pictures! He sees Charlton locking one into the type. Where can they be obtained? This is an exciting one, and Charlton offers him more, "any number of them, at the Fascist Party headquarters." This is captioned, "Soviet Soldiers attacking encircled Germans at Kharkov." Helmeted figures are seen leaping with bayoneted rifles through flames upon what appear to be rooftops in the light of the fires. "Wonderful, and up to date!" He was enthused until Charlton told him it was really a photograph of Fascist troops conducting war exercises some time in the dim past. "That's what we call yellow journalism, Charlton." He just laughs: "So do we."
Later he gives the American a manuscript to criticize that he has written on the history of his Eighth Army News. It is duly read and returned. "I have seen better," and "Charlton, you are better than your story about yourself." Self-conscious, as written by a man in uniform, as in many of his own letters, written under the eye of the censor, and as a matter of fact the Eighth Army News has to pass censor. The PWB team are both writers and censors. They are, of course, devoted to the policies of Roosevelt and Churchill and reconcile them as best they can, without much trouble, and there are directives from here and there that are to be followed, but they have wide leeway because of the veritable political and psychological ignorance of those who might have set themselves up to censor and dictate to them, the "experts," the generals, the assistant chiefs of staff for operations and intelligence; the heads of PWB are so far away from most operations and so engaged in quarreling amongst themselves that they are hardly considered unless they happen to descend upon "the people out there," as they would do once in the while, and I must recount to you how.
Robbie and Alfred, prompted by expectations of reinforcements and "visiting firemen," locate and seize a large pallazzo with a great dining hall, and move into it out of their smaller apartments. It is fine baroque construction of the old town, Ortygia. No one is in charge, no one to be ordered out or chased.
Hardly have they set up than there appear Lieutenant-Colonel McFarlane and Captain Beauclerk. They are not so bad, congenial enough, with some skills to offer; moreover, McFarlane has the brass to hire an excellent majordomo and superb chef from the local Hotel Splendide, and bully beef is banished. John Whitaker jeeps over from Palermo to exchange recipes; he looks tired and weak; Patti has come down with malaria, he and a great many others; why can't they have developed a shot or a cure -- meanwhile use a net if you can and grease yourself with repellant oil.
But then come none other than the Chief of the Psychological Warfare Branch, AFHQ, Mediterranean Theater, Algiers, Colonel Hazeltine of the United States Cavalry, accompanied by the man who is pushing himself aggressively into the top-level leadership on the civilian side, under the auspices of the Office of War Information, C.D.Jackson, of Time Magazine, a tall handsome figure, especially by contrast with Hazeltine. They come in arguing, are disposed into their bedrooms, emerge for dinner when they begin to argue again -- about little that could be termed intelligible to the others around the table -- who should be placed where to do what in Algiers -- while here they are in Italy! -- and there occurs an interlude while the enemy comes over and bombs, which they watch with interest, and then they resume arguing, with everyone having left the table, and nothing but shouts echoing through the late night of the Pallazzo, Hazeltine, of course, drunk. In the morning they depart for Algiers, there to report that they have seen the Front and it is Ours.
The Sicilian campaign as a whole was notable for ill-feelings, arguments, and recriminations among Allied Leaders. Quite apart from their costly badinage, their tactics, actually going back to the strategic conception of Operation Husky, were deplorable. The American Lieutenant was hardly aware of the range and depths of the mischief and mishaps: he was, do not forget, of impeccable morale, and took every occasion to believe well of General Montgomery, General Patton and the rest of the tribe. Still, by the time his own less respected top leaders left the Island, a number of events had occurred or were about to occur, with the exception of a depressing finale, that would have made him wonder, which is about all a soldier can do, wonder: anything else would be against regulations at the least and at the most conduct unbecoming an officer. What had been happening?
The landings were successful, almost unopposed, from which surprise was deduced, but it was not so much surprise as an inability and incapacity of the enemy to respond. The would-be defenders of the Island were largely immobile, outnumbered, and vastly out- gunned. They lost air superiority even before the invasion began, and promptly began to withdraw their aircraft to peninsular bases. A great number of planes were reported to have been destroyed on the ground, but this may have been in many cases because they could not get off the ground.
Italian submarines were completely inactive and the Italian fleet at Taranto and other bases refused to attack the invading convoys and their hundreds of armed vessels. The Italians numbered on the whole of the island 200,000, mostly unequipped coastal defense forces; the Germans amounted to about 60,000. with elements of two armored divisions. Over half the Italians surrendered quickly or in batches as they fled and were ultimately overtaken, they being on foot and not giving a damn. There were rare instances where an Italian unit displayed high morale in the face of the landings; notably, a battalion of their only top Division, the "Livorno,' decided it had to put on a good show, and fixed bayonets and charged on open terrain against a Ranger battalion defending the left flank of the beachhead at Gela, and were mowed down, which took care of that problem, until the next day, when the scenario was repeated.
German units reacted too slowly to counterattack the two main American beachheads as these formed up, and there was fear on their side at one point that elements of the renowned Hermann Goering Panzer Division would panic. The German armor and infantry descending upon the American beachhead at Gela were repulsed finally by a conglomerate of disorganized forces, including especially large naval guns. The personal leadership of Col. James Gavin catalyzed the morale of individual soldiers and small groups of paratroopers and 45th Division wanderers with the effect of defending the crucial Biazza Ridge until the enemy withdrew, frustrated.
Upon the failure of the Axis counterattack, the American Seventh Army moved swiftly and relentlessly northwards, ultimately reaching the Coast, where General Patton turned West for a personal triumph in Palermo, losing precious days from the pursuit of the Axis forces along the North Coast toward Messina, their only escape to the toe of Italy. This flamboyancy, all agree, was counter-productive, a serious error; among other consequences, it let a new German division from Italy come across the Straits and get into position to block the Americans when they did get around to pushing along the coastal road to Messina.
Perhaps the impulse to "liberate" Palermo was incited by a personal slight. Patton had been blocked by the Commander of the Invasion, British General Alexander, shortly after the Americans had broken out of their beachhead, at which moment they could have employed a good road to the Northeast; there was one that turned upon Vizzini, a picturesque hill town (and setting for the opera of Cavaleria Rusticana). The irresolute Alexander allowed jurisdiction over the road to Montgomery, who was doing badly enough on the Eastern roads and had his forces stretched out and disorganized by several disastrous incidents. General Bradley, serving under Patton as a Corps Commander at the time, urged Patton to protest more vigorously. But Patton was in hot water with over-all Commander Eisenhower, as a trouble-maker, an obscene loud-mouth, and an Anglophobe; Patton was afraid to get into a quarrel with Alexander.
As it turned out, he came close to being relieved later on by reason of the press coverage that followed three instances of his cursing and/or slapping soldiers who were hors de combat and in hospital. Medical personnel and the Press got after him; only the combined efforts of Eisenhower, Marshall, and Secretary of War Stimson saved him from disgrace and dismissal. That he was also a show-off, publicity-hound, poet, and mythomaniac hardly caused him harm. He was a misfit among Allied generals. His untypical frenzy for the attack is what made him useful here and later.
General Montgomery played upon a terribly modest image, the opposite of Patton's, a devout man of God, but he was as schizophrenic as Patton. For a couple of days he looked to be the dashing relentless aggressor, but then he subsided when he should have been well on his way into Catania and headed for points North. He let his troops be spread out against an even thinner enemy. He sent thousands of them far to the West, but, of course, you do not envelop anybody's troops by climbing up and over the shoulders of Mt. Etna; you just go back East where you came from and join with the coastal drive. He walked his infantry into battle to the point of exhausting them; he could have transported them by truck. He did not call upon the tremendous Allied fleet to bombard the Axis troops and installations along the whole of the East Coast and on the toe of Italy. True, for this, he might have had to call in Churchill himself, but that was precisely what Churchill could do best. (This is a story told one evening at dinner by Major Galsworthy: Frustrated once too often by the Admirals when he proposed a reform of the Navy, he then being Lord of the Admiralty, and hearing the exasperating words, "But tradition will not allow it, Sir," Churchill bellowed at them, "Traditions of the Royal Navy, Bah! Rum, Prayers, Sodomy, and the Lash!")
I will tell you later what this failure to bombard cost. You may well ask, too, why the two great navies did not literally cast themselves into the breach between Sylla and Charybdis. They would have had some of the best hunting of the war, and gone a long way towards winning the upcoming battles of Salerno and beyond. Perhaps that is what most of them were doing now, resting and refitting for the invasion of peninsular Italy, that is, Salerno.
Four airborne fiascos had accompanied the Allied landings, two on the Gela front, two on the Syracuse front. Because of high winds, poor planning, and pilot inexperience, an American regiment, landing hours before the seaborne landings, was scattered over a thousand square miles. It could not thereafter operate as a unit. Making the best of the situation, impromptu squads transforming into guerrillas spread surprise, fear, confusion and inflicted much minor damage. (Granted that in warfare, much minor damage can add up to major damage.) The largest element landing intact, a meager battalion, did assume an important role in blocking attacks upon the beachheads.
On July 11 when the beachhead was getting into shape, following the repulse of Axis counterattacks, 2,300 paratroopers were flown to the beachhead. Nervous anti-aircraft gunners at sea and ashore mistook the planes carrying them for the enemy and began a crazy fire that knocked out or damaged many of the aircraft and killed or wounded about two hundred men. More men were killed and wounded and more equipment destroyed than in the total landings proper. Fault was batted from one headquarters to another. To no avail.
The British could not brag of a difference. Arguably, the glider disaster that came on the eve of the invasion may have been worse. An incredibly makeshift collection of aircraft was assembled in Africa to transport a couple of thousand men, never fully trained, and inexperienced in night flying and landings, to the area around Syracuse, aiming at taking up and holding the strategic points to let through the main invading forces that would follow the next day. High winds and widespread incompetence crowned an adventure that was perilous at best. The miracle, as at Gela, was that a small unit landed, almost randomly, by the main target, here a bridge, and held it as envisioned. An Italian military launch picked up over a hundred of the drowning survivors from the sea and the wings of crashed gliders, brought them ashore, and surrendered.
British ack-ack batteries enacted the same scene as their American counterparts in the West when the First Parachute Brigade endeavored to land on the plains of Catania. They were abetted by Axis batteries. The force of 126 troop-carrying aircraft and 19 airplanes towing artillery-loaded gliders was destroyed: only 395 of the 1856 soldiers of the force landed in the neighborhood of the central target, Primosole Bridge. Again, as in the case of the American elite troops, they fought on, even as partial squads. Survivors were shipped back to Africa.
Elite troops of the two armies thus were practically thrown away. They could only show bits of their capabilities; individuals and small groups picked themselves up from the miserable scene and tackled important jobs well. Men are not equal. Soldiers are not equal. One of such men, properly used, is worth several ordinary soldiers; a squad of them is worth disproportionately more.
It would be instructive at this point to describe the adventures of the German parachute units sent down into Sicily, which landed more or less where they ought to and caused the Eighth Army much trouble. Their losses were heavy but more "rational," that is, brought on by necessarily high risk and enemy action. The German First Parachute Division arrived organized, stayed so and fought on continuously through the campaign and in Italy.
Amicide might have figured worse in the Sicilian campaign than before or thereafter elsewhere. Yet "friendly fire" remained always a nemesis of advancing troops. In fact, even as the Sicilian campaign progressed, across the world on Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, Japanese defenders abandoned the Island when faced with the certainty of a large American invading force; eighteen days later, the Americans suffered 300 casualties assaulting the shores against a phantom enemy. The fog had been heavy.
Our Hero was out of range in these actions. He learned something of the Gela episode, circuitously, via the British Navy, the Intelligence Section of the Eighth Army, and Major Galsworthy, coming back to camp. No doubt he would have learned more if there were not so much to conceal on the British side. Strangely he did not feel at all lonely with the British. There were several Americans now with his team, Brown Roberts, an OWI civilian photographer from Tennessee. Sergeant Leone came in, Corporal Laudando, and a couple of others. Generals Patton and Lucas were angry at the absence of any American officers on the staff of the Army Group, commanded by Alexander. Our Boy did not even notice it, nor the similar vacancy on the Eighth Army staff.
The British were still quite insular; they did not wish the show to be stolen by the Americans, it would seem. Too, they generally had a low opinion of American military prowess, at least on the command and general staff levels. Even while the Lieutenant was writing letters praising the British soldier, and more so the American soldier, the British leaders were in some cases wondering how to prevent the Yanks from botching things. No doubt one of the reasons why his British comrades became so devoted to the Lieutenant was that, while being bold and confident, he did not brag about how quickly the Americans, with all their superior qualities, would settle the war with a little British help.
At any event, it is time that we propel him on a trip to the interior, because from this there originate activities of a non-bloody type that have meaningful effects. With everything in order at the newspaper and now a jeep with a driver, he decides that he can derive some useful intelligence in the neighborhood of the ancient village of Licodia-Eubea, birthplace of his father in 1882, and can discover, in the first place, how it had survived the battle raging around the Island. He had dropped in on the town several years earlier with his brother and Danny Phelan, piano-player and traps- drummer respectively, of his jazz combo that played aboard ships in the summer. It was only a couple of hours' drive from Syracuse, up through orange groves and vineyards. The tomatoes had ripened and been picked and were being dried in the hot sun on walls, patios and verandas everywhere.
He stops for the night at Vizzini, to examine the heavy damage done by the planes and close-in fighting there, and to visit with the Allied Military Government officer who has already moved in. He is an intelligent and diligent man, American, who is the political head of the town and its chief provider of goods from the outside, from wheat to medical supplies, for the time being. Recognized promptly by them as a super-podesta or sindico or mayor, he gets excellent cooperation from the Italians. He has had a few instances of errant Allied soldiers, Canadians, who, under the influence of, or looking for, liquor, break into places, like bears. He has a great many Italian ex-soldiers foraging for food and beating about the bush, and is trying to get Eighth Army to feed them, whereas Eighth Army would like him to feed them. Take them prisoners, he says. Let them go free, Eighth Army says. Give us our daily bread, say the Italians, civilian and soldier alike.
He drives around the mountain and down the cypress-lined road to Licodia only several miles away. Practically no damage there. He knocks on the door of a little stone house on the quiet main street, and is greeted with astonishment by his aunt, Francesca, a Franciscan nun in dark brown gown with white coif, her bundle of large old keys clanking at her waist. She is a tiny woman, chirpy, cracking jokes, but businesslike, too. Long ago she paid for an authorization to "go secular," and since then has taught the children of the first two grades of elementary school and lived alone in her ancestral house. Townsfolk crowd into her living room; she chooses and regulates the sample that shall enter to sit upon the many little padded wicker chairs. But he does not even stay the night. There is a lot of coming and going. At intervals he goes up to the second floor to look up and down the street from the jutting wrought-iron balcony. Hank is minding the jeep in the shade across the street, watched carefully in turn by several urchins.
The Lieutenant hears a string of stories in short order. An American soldier was killed, and given temporary burial. He was the only casualty. He was entering the town from the south, the road from Vittoria and the beaches beyond. A ruined castle at that end of the village looks down from a rock eminence upon the road. He was killed by a German sniper who had been the last of the German rearguard. Our men will come for him, he says.
A large landholder, a "pezzo grosso", enters the nun's little house. The farm tenants are in rebellion, he complains. They are refusing to pay rents or give up shares of the crops; they say that is the way the Americans want it. Is it true? Has communism now arrived? No, says the Lieutenant, it is not true, but I refuse to attend a meeting to tell the world that it is not true; the AMG (still called AMGOT) officer in Vizzini is in charge of such problems. He finds this landlord distasteful; he probably deserves his troubles; he looks greedy.
Everybody is happy, says a politician, because the real reason that the Americans (whom they assume, even in this zone, are in charge of the Inglese) have come to Sicily (instead of Italy) is to announce a separate Republic of Sicily; it was the Italians' fault that the war started and the Sicilians never wanted it. The Lieutenant reminded them that the Sicilian invasion and liberation were part of a Total World War for One World and Democracy: they should not think of dismembering Italy.
It doesn't take many experiences of this kind to teach a major lesson of warfare, that every soldier is a propaganda machine wherever he is in contact with civilians. The American troops are less experienced than the British in both warfare and civilian relations, but because they come from an ethnic melting pot (a significant percentage of the invading Americans were of Italian origin), and also because they had suffered less from the Italians and from the War generally, and, finally, because there had been a deliberate educational campaign by the American Army to prepare the soldier for contact with the civilian population, the Americans are probably superior as "psychological warriors."
He returns to Syracuse feeling that he should do something about this strong separatist sentiment that may well bring on civil war, and he is, furthermore, of the opinion that most responsible Sicilians are in no wise persuaded of the value of independence. The sentiment is expressed in the Syracuse newspaper and again later on in an editorial in the Corriere di Catania. The editorial declares loudly: Sicilia e' Piccola! and then goes on to reproach all those who believe that if they could only free the great Island from the exploitation by the mainland Italians, they would prosper; it scolds the population for believing that somehow the whole World War is directed at liberating Sicily. It exhorts them to patience, to cooperation, to working for a unified world, because Sicily is small!
The battle is raging around Etna. Catania at the southeast slope incurred heavy damage. It is their next home. The newest arrival from Africa, Captain Beauclerk, goes into town to find them shelter. He finds an excellent villa down toward the City Center, but it lacks the furnishings required by the group and they move into a villa farther out. It is just as well, because the first one harbors a large time bomb that blows it away a day later. Little is made of the deadly near miss. Captain Beauclerk is embarrassed and more frightened than the others because of the decision he had almost made.
Sergeant Leone, erstwhile Philadelphia schoolteacher, takes charge of the new urban villa, with its typical lush Italian garden where one can walk at dawn. He comes down with fever and chills: malaria. Thousands of men had contracted the disease in North Africa just before embarking; here the number quadrupled; by the end of the campaign both armies had lost more men from malaria than from all casualties incident to battle. There went the equal of all replacements for all battle casualties: pouf! And many units landed without mosquito nets, tantamount to landing without anti-aircraft guns. Remember the AA Officer Training at Camp Davis, where endurance to mosquito bites was rewarded, but malaria was hardly mentioned. How to put it: the Ancient Myth that War is a Struggle between Armed Men Befogs All Sense and Reason in All Types of Behavior.
Leone will not go to the hospital; he is a Christian Scientist. So is Captain Heycock, who nevertheless orders him to go for treatment and sends him off in a jeep. Our Man is turning into the driveway of the villa the same evening when he sees Leone walking up the road: "Hey, Sergeant, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be in the Hospital" "It wasn't necessary. I am O.K. Lieutenant, I am well." The Officer felt his brow and pulse. No sweat. No shakes. The guy is cured. And he stays cured. Heycock has grit; a letter from England tells him that a downed German plane crashed into his garden in England. Later he hears that his little son has chopped off a finger with a scythe. Not a word of complaint; only mumbled phrases of sympathy accepted.
Captain Beauclerk, the type of the tall, bony, ruddy Englishman, complete with a slight royal lisp to emulate King George, wants to edit the newspaper that is to be recommenced in Catania. For his part, the American insists upon handling the job. Robbie supports Alfred, letting him lie about his experience, which had to be collapsed into a period when he must have been a student and, yes, he was active, which he was not, on the University daily paper that was the size of a typical English wartime daily.
Beauclerk, encumbered by his nearly fatal choice of villa, and embarrassed at the pathetic wartime British newspapers, is nevertheless a bona fide English newspaperman and ranking Captain. He bides his time. He knows the American will leave as soon as the road to Messina is passable. And he will live there happily ever after. Only fools want to keep moving up, or men like Robbie who have an interest, a tuna factory on Elba.
The Corriere di Catania is named after the Syracuse paper, and is printed in the offices of the preexisting newspaper which shut down before the invasion and was, of course, of Fascist persuasion. Now how does he find nonfascist, if not anti-Fascist, journalists. Obviously there would be none, after many years of Fascist dictatorship and censorship. Once more, to begin with, Robbie is editor, Alfred publisher. They clean up the wreckage and litter of the plant. They look to see who is skulking about, printers, yes, and they will work well. A Seventh Day Adventist from Turin appears, named Palma, about as marginal a character-type as you can find in Catania, and he is hired as an associate editor because he has been publishing religious tracts. Then an apparition appears in the form of a well- dressed well-set-up woman of a certain age and decorum, who says that she is a writer of features of all kinds and seeks work. The Lieutenant hires her, and Sicily has its first victory for Woman's Lib. "Fosca of Agrigento" she calls herself. She writes calmly about life on the eve of the invasion, on the problems of women, about attitudes toward war, and she helps fill the paper and gives it a little class, as they say, and a sense of warmth. Robbie, the misogynist, is amused; it offers him grounds for scornful remarks.
Next occurs a political crisis because there does show on scene a true journalist and editor, a Giuseppe Longhitano, and although the Lieutenant quizzes him about his prior life, he finds there no indication of fascistic activities or beliefs. He likes him. He is square- cut, has an Italo Balbo goatee, moves fast, about forty years old, quiet, low-voiced. He quickly reveals himself to be an excellent editor and publisher. The job of running the newspaper slips off the Lieutenant's back.
Then the American is told by informants that Longhitano is a former notorious Fascist journalist. He interrogates him again. He inquires about. After some days of investigation it develops that there was a Fascist newspaperman named Longhitano, not so uncommon a name as one might think. So far as he can discover, the two are different characters. He is left in charge when they leave. He runs the paper under an owner who has appeared and this Signor Ardizzone, it develops, also was not a committed Fascist and so could be brought back into the picture; the two of them get along; so, within a month or two, Catania, the most progressive of the Southern cities, has the best newspaper. Or at least, such rumors did come to the ears, and no one gainsaid them.
Mt. Etna presents major difficulties to envelopment. Both the Americans and the British are working their way over roadblocks and traps, through bottlenecks and ravines, beneath blasted bridges, avoiding mines. Under persistent fire. He goes up now and then and the desolation is pitiful. Corporal Ignatius Laudando is driving, and the jeep slides off one of the roads along a rib of Mt. Etna one twilight. No serious harm done. He stands by the road watching the curl of smoke above Etna and smelling the renewed air of evening, pissing, then shifts position as he discerns emerging from the dusty debris the helmet and face of a German paratrooper. He mutters, "Excuse me," It all inclines him to pathos. Thus he is writing to Jill, describing the Desert Rats of an artillery convoy:
...Men are men in war as in peace and they hold onto their precious little objects -- things that no one would ever bother to pick off the street at home, cans of odd sizes with annoying jagged edges, a piece of inferior cord, a pencil stub, a ragged blank letter-form, a loose match with a non-matching scratcher, a broken glass lamp cover.
It's a sight to watch an old army on the march, all the pathetic evidences of men constructing a life around a gas engine. And the engines themselves, like old faithful horses, not coughing with their original uniform noises but with a variety, with an individuality induced by age. There are bullet holes and cracked windshields, bent fenders, missing pieces of iron, added pieces of canvas, exposed parts gasping for air, makeshift upholstery of Arab cotton, Italian pillows and army canvas -- a deadly procession of okies.
And the men cling to their vehicles like children to their mothers' breasts. They look as if they might fall off easily, but they can't. There is a magnetism about the body of their machine. And what queer unorthodox gear -- old helmets, some with camouflage netting, some without, shirts open at the first or the third button, with or without leggings, tams, berets, neckerchiefs. Each man, as if to demonstrate that he is a man, not a machine, carries his particular loot, more pitiable than condemnable, some bought, some raided, a crate of ruffled chickens dangling from a gun barrel, a bad picture of a pastoral scene, a battered German helmet, odd implements not conceivably useful to anyone save a soldier, a pot or can to boil tea, and a mattress tucked into a crowded corner. Each has his own favorite piece of loot and the story behind it, a fat candle, a weird mug, an old fork, an atrocious undergarment, a cherished book, an old magazine... Our victorious armies sweep on in this way and not in martial procession.
There is little loot to be found. The country reveals itself in dire poverty, rendered grim by dry summer, acting all the poorer, hiding everything possible in the face of the rampaging troops. He knows a chateau that might be looked into, he tells Laudando. (He does not tell him that it is the house of a distant cousin, a Baron Centaro.) They approach it, near Vizzini, it is hidden by carefully piled up brush, the driveway is blocked by felled trees. No matter, they charge up the hill on the jeep, and lurch into the courtyard. The residents look out, startled, wondering at this tour de force. The Baron is away.
When they look around, the Americans see no one who is suspect or hostile, nobody has been carting off the marble statues, the paintings, the embroideries, no sign that Front or Rear Echelons have visited, but into the cellar -- what, not even a bottle of wine? No. But then the pungent odor of cheese and the sight of a shrouded wheel, grey on a grey shelf, a true parmesan! Off they go with it, with the acquiescence and to the relief of the household staff. Robbie, Galsworthy, all of them, they are delighted. Now the C-ration canned hash and the English bully beef are spiced with garlic and sprinkled with grated cheese of supreme quality. There is some wine to be had. Robbie has spoken up for that, and they eat gratefully and laugh and talk late into the evening. When, they ask themselves, shall we go across the Straits?
Large political events are occurring in Italy and the Allied High Command is considering what to do next. They appear to be doing nothing. What happens is this: As mentioned, the Italians remove Mussolini on July 26. He is finally held in custody in a Hotel in Abruzzi. The Badoglio government would like to let in the Allies and let exit the Germans. No such luck! The Germans are moving heavy traffic through the Alps into Italy, starting on August 6. On the 12th the Germans begin to withdraw across the Straits of Messina. Apparently they have no intention of giving up in Italy, whatever the ultimate decision of the Italian government. Italian forces are scattered in a dozen countries from the Soviet Union to France. They have lost most of their planes, tanks, and cannon. Their fleet might be used, but to what end? The people stand by, watching with approval the mass melting away of the troops. The civilians in Sicily reveal little but pity and sympathy for their surrendering and deserting soldiers. A general strike could be called in Italy to block the use of the rail and communication facilities by the Germans; but it is against the ideology of the Italian military now in command. If the Italian forces could hold only one area, perhaps Rome itself, the Allies could move in; this was considered, but the Germans move first. The plan to send in airborne troops to Rome is abandoned.
On August 15 General Castellano in Madrid gets in touch with the Americans to offer surrender. It takes three days for Eisenhower to answer. The next two days see the last of the Italians and Germans leave Messina by ferry to Italy and the first Americans and British arriving in the destroyed city. For a week the British reconnoiter and bomb the toe installations to no end, for the Germans are speeding North along the coast. British troops then land and the pursuit begins. On the same day, a secret surrender document is signed. On September 8, Eisenhower and Bagdoglio issue separate announcements of the "unconditional surrender," which is not that at all. The slogan has served to delay matters. The true agreement is that the Italians promise to do everything to work themselves back into the good graces of the Allies, including opposing the Germans at every stage possible and setting up a democratic government. It might have been better to designate a heroic exile or Fascist prisoner, instead of defeated generals, to run affairs. The Italians are told that they will get such aid as may be available to combat famine and disease, and restore basic services.
The next day, at 03:30, Allied forces of the Fifth Army land on the beaches of the Bay of Salerno, well below Naples. (Minus the General of their Tenth Corps, Sir Brian Horrocks, who at dinner the preceding evening in Bizerte, had stepped out "to watch the fireworks," and had been killed by a bit of "friendly flak.") Simultaneously, a British Airborne Brigade lands in Taranto to take in hand the Italian Navy and installations there and shortly move across to Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea. Everyone is confused, from the top down.
One cannot review the events of these days a half century later without wondering whether truly the political leaders and generals knew what was happening and what to do. The announcement of surrender was postponed to what was thought to be a shrewd time to strike, as the American and British troops were going ashore at Salerno. The effect, however, was to paralyze the Italians, to clarify for the Germans the exclusion of the Italians from their reckoning of sources of support, and to confuse the Allied troops as to what to expect: an easy walk in the sun, a time-out, an armistice while the Germans withdrew, a possibility of seizing strategic positions here, there, everywhere, or, of course, nowhere.
Actually, everything that can happen does happen, to some extent. Italians and Germans come into conflict. Allied troops cannot be sure of how to react to the presence of Italian troops, but then learn to ignore them or use them in different minor ways. The Italian troops dissolve up and down the Peninsula. Abroad, they have to stay together, and become prisoners of the Allies in some cases, of the Germans in others, of partisans in still others. In many areas they remain in encampments, as in Sardinia. Sometimes they disarm themselves, sometimes are disarmed by former foes on both sides. Upcoming is a rearming.
On September 12, Skorzeny's parachute task force frees Mussolini from captivity and Il Duce sets up a new Fascist Republic far to the North at Salo. The news dismays and infuriates Our Man and many others; the daring trick wins the equivalent of several divisions of troops and police to struggle against the Allies. After failing to drive the Allies into the Sea at Salerno, the Germans move up through Naples on the first of October, and draw a new front line across Italy, abandoning Foggia with its enormous air field.
On October 13, the Badoglio Government, having waited for no good reason, declares war against Germany and takes up the status of Co-belligerency, a second-class membership in the Allied Club. On October 31, an Italian 1st Motorized Brigade actually joins the Allied Fifth Army. And I need not go on from here, especially since I have not picked up Our Man from where he was last seen: he and his comrades were then encamped among some bulrushes, enjoying themselves, discussing the campaign just ended and contemplating the next moves.
The American and British troops have hooked around Mt. Etna to join up in Messina on August 17, concluding a thirty-nine day campaign. The day before, the last of the Germans had motored across the Straits. For a week, a masterful escape had been under way. German and Italian shipping officers have managed to ferry to the toe of Calabria about 60,000 Italian and 40,000 German troops. The Italians, it may be surmised, were non-Sicilians who took the opportunity to get closer to home before calling it quits. What we see in their escape is that the Allies were completely incompetent, for here was no desperate fighting retreat. It can be perceived in these figures that the Germans withdrew more troops from Sicily than they had there to begin with. The German forces were doubled in size (despite casualties) during the Sicilian campaign. It was maniacal, but they did.
Why did the German High Command decide to risk losing excellent divisions in a hopeless attempt to hold Sicily? The answer is to be found in comparable situations elsewhere in the War. The German Command is ruled with an iron hand by Adolf Hitler, who hates to give up positions, witness Stalingrad, Tunis, and Hungary. (And more to come.) But at the same time they are masters of withdrawal, a technology probably well-honed in Russia and Africa by now, but always a signature of highest professionalism.
The Allies have their own kind of problem, which is that they let opportunities slip by; they let the enemy out of traps. Unlike the Italian refugees, the Germans will live to fight another day. They will immediately appear opposite the Americans landing at Salerno. The Hermann Goering Panzer Division will be heard of again and again, the First Parachute Division also.
But how could any and all of these escape, given the overwhelming seapower and airpower of the Allies at the scene of action, and pursued by two huge fully-equipped mobile Armies?
Victory is trumpeted by the British and American Generals and media. The Psychological Warfare Team, which should have known better, celebrates as well; Robbie and Alfred and the rest are right in there tooting their little tin horns too. The troops believe that they waged a highly successful campaign and triumphed against odds.
Victory is a poorly defined term, designating the holding of a battlefield after a conflict. When the utter failure to seal off the Axis troops from all flight to the mainland, which was not only a possibility but practically a surefire operation, is added to the many other blunders and misconducted operations from the planning state in North Africa onwards, it is difficult to use the term victory in any but its most narrow sense of possession of the battlefield.
The statistics ordinarily employed are crude and misleading to the point of deception. Some 20% of the Allied casualties were self- inflicted. Probably 30% of the Axis casualties came from the destruction of Italian troops whose intentions were unclear or who simply got in the way. The campaign of thirty-nine days might readily have been one of two weeks, had Montgomery concentrated on pushing up through Catania to Messina immediately, putting a shielding force on his left flank until the Americans would arrive in a day or so.
General Patton, once his Army had repelled the beachhead counterattacks, within three days, that is, could have struck the Northern road and cut off all Axis forces in the West of Sicily. He could then have despatched a force along the Northern seashore road to unite with the British at Messina. The weak German forces would have surrendered there, and any airborne brigades sent over the heads of the encircling Allied forces would have been doomed.
But they would not have been sent down for such a futile task; their despatch in any case was a mistake. It was apparent on the second day, as soon as the weakness of the Axis on the ground, in the air, and on the sea was revealed, that Sicily could not be held without a massive infusion of new well-trained troops. These were quite unavailable.
The Axis would have done as well to pluck out the best of their troops, no more than ten thousand, and let the Allied armies blunder about, "shooting themselves in the foot" and assembling for major offensives. Victory in Sicily would have then befallen in thirty-two days instead of thirty-nine.
I should revert, however, to the mind of Our Hero, who is fully persuaded of the excellence of the Eighth Army and even more of the Seventh, and marvels at the lightning victory. He cannot wait to leave for wherever the Front might be, and proposes a scouting trip to the mainland of Italy. He promises the others that he will return
soon, brimful of information, and forthwith forthright departs.